Anointed the “Godfather of House” in the late 70’s after igniting the trail for mixed electronic dance music, Frankie Knuckles has passed away suddenly in his home at the age of 59. What Frankie Knuckles leaves behind is an everlasting genre of music to influence the club scene for generations to come.
As the era of disco got extinguished, Knuckles traversed his DJ skills to incorporate a delicate yet seismic blend of R&B, post-punk, reggae and synthesizer all punctuated by elongated beats made possible by reel-to-reel tape recorder editing. This unique collaboration of sound became known as house music as an ode to the nightclub Warehouse in Chicago where Knuckles was the resident DJ.
“When it comes to the foundation, the bottom end, the kick and the bass line and how they work, my theory is it should be felt not heard,” Knuckles pronounced of his style, paying constant homage to pulse rattling drum assortments adjoined to catchy vocals and electronic sampling. It wasn’t long before this new, incendiary style started to spread beyond Chicago to Detroit then Ibiza and the U.K. soon blanketing an entire club scene – solidifying how Frankie Knuckles leaves behind an everlasting genre of beat.
While some may debate the origins of house and electronic music, there’s no denying what someone like Frankie Knuckles did for the establishments he performed in and the subsequent trend it would create. Filling dance floors and looping sounds so that dancers could savor the experience, and perhaps take it too far with the help of illicit drugs eventually an ornament of the scene, Knuckles lived by a creed to unite his listeners through movement inspired by his cocktail of sound. Later he’d graduate his talents to being a producer, a Grammy winner for non-classical mixer of the year in 1998 and worked with the legendary likes of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan.
Born in the Bronx and nicknamed “Knuckles” by family, Francis Nicholls graduated from the High School of Art and Design, went on to form Def Mix Productions in the late80’s after learning to mix records from mentor and renowned DJ Larry Levan, spinning when Levan took breaks at the Continental Baths. All of his musical experience would culminate into a myriad personalization of influential sounds, only to be adopted throughout the nation and globe. If any club kid has ever had a heart-pounding moment at an after party, their sweat soaked and lollipop littered night was inextricably molded in some way by Knuckles.
He probably didn’t know it at the time, but when Knuckles was insinuating a new energetic form of dance music to replace the passing of disco he was building a space for EDM to unfold, trance music festivals and the likes of current pop-culture heavyweights like Avicci and Skrillex to rise – followings and artists likely to pay attribution to what Knuckles first concocted and only letting it continue to mold their musical product for years to come. Like his signature method of prolonging an experience for club goers and manufactured elongation of beats, Frankie Knuckles leaves behind an everlasting genre.
Opinion by Lindsey Shaw
Chicago Sun Times